I’m celebrating news of a pregnancy.  Heavens, no, not mine! Or any other human for that matter. 

It’s Tahlequah, a Southern Resident Killer Whale also known as J35, who is expecting. Or, as they say in the UK, has fallen pregnant.  

Orca J-35, also known as Tahlequah, seen in 2014 off the coast of British Columbia, Canada – photo courtesy of NPR

Almost exactly two years ago, Tahlequah made international news after her calf died thirty minutes after birth. This account from National Public Radio describes well how Tahlequah and other whales in J pod responded to the calf’s death. Behaviors included what appeared to be a grieving ceremony and Tahlequah pushing her calf’s body for seventeen days over nearly 1000 miles. 

Since early July, marine mammal researchers Dr. Holly Fearnbach and Dr. John Durban with SR3  have collected aerial images of the majority of the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population. Their ongoing project uses photographs from drones to non-invasively measure growth and body condition to track the nutritional health of the population over time.

Their results? Several pregnancies in the J, K, and L pods, including J-35. 

You can also listen to a story about Tahlequah’s pregnancy on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”

While this news is cause for celebration, The Seattle Times’ in-depth report, “Hostile Waters,” describes why the southern residents are struggling to survive.   Most pregnancies for these endangered whales aren’t successful. Tahlequah’s baby in 2018 was the first for the whales in three years. The southern residents have since had two more calves, in J pod and L pod. Both are still alive.

As of today, August 17, it appears Tahlequah is still pregnant. The gestation period for orcas is typically eighteen months, so it may be a while before we know the outcome (though some sources suggest Tahlequah is near the end of her pregnancy). Researchers Fearnbach and Durban urge boaters of every type in the Salish Sea to respect the whales’ space and give them the peace and quiet they need.  Especially Tahlequah.


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